Dear Divorce Minister, What is the morally and spiritually right way to handle this?


Dear Divorce Minister,

I was wondering if you could do a post about what is the morally and spiritually right thing to do in regard to telling people why the marriage broke down.
My ex-husband was a pastor and we were well known in the area where I still live.  He had an affair, around the same time he was going through a transition in his beliefs, resulting in him also no longer being a Christian.  In the beginning, I did try everything I could to save the marriage, and gave him many options to do so.  After an incredibly painful two years, including him resuming contact with the other woman after promising me he wouldn’t, I finally took the kids and left, as he refused to leave.
Another two years after that, I filed for divorce, when he once again resumed his relationship with the same woman, and also continued to state consistently and repeatedly, that he is no longer a Christian and is now a humanist. He no longer is in ministry.He also moved away from the area.
In the meantime, people have been shocked that we are divorced.  My ex-husband has sent me angry emails about how it is nobody’s business what happened in our marriage and that it is a private matter. He is furious with me that I told my parents and my close support system of a few friends I trust. I did not spread it around the community, and tell others.  But, it seems word has spread and he blames me.  I believe the other woman was very vocal, as the relationship eventually ended  very badly with her.
My former in laws do not know that he committed adultery against me, as apparently he has denied that, and they choose to believe them.  My ex-husband apparently tells people our marriage broke down due to my failings and that we simply grew apart.
I have no desire for revenge. I am choosing to forgive.  I have gotten counseling and have a lot of support in my life. My healing process is well underway.
But, when people ask me what happened, I also don’t want to lie.
What is the morally and spiritually right way to handle this?
Thank you.
Healing Heart
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. – Ephesians 5:11, NIV
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. -Jesus speaking in John 3:19-20, NIV
Dear Healing Heart,
To begin my response, I want to point out that telling the truth is always a good place to start as a follower of Christ, and we are called to expose evil deeds to the light as Scripture says (Eph. 5:11). Just because your former husband has departed from the faith does not mean you need to violate your own conscience on this matter. You need neither lie by omission (by saying nothing and allowing people to continue believing his deceitful narrative) or by commission in agreeing with it.
Speak the truth to those who ask:
“We are divorced because I found his ongoing long-term affair with another woman unacceptable to me just as God finds it so according to Scripture.”
Of course, this will make him angry as you have already discovered. You are exposing his wicked deeds to the light, which he hates (see John 3:19-20). He is being confronted with the natural consequences of his poor choices, and he would rather intimidate you into silence than face those. You see, people tend to think poorly of people who act poorly. It looks bad for him because it is bad. Committing adultery is a matter of breaking one of the big Ten. Most people will not ask further questions after such sinful behavior is exposed to the light as I have experienced myself.
Three words of caution at this point:
1) Only speak the truth and be sure you can prove this if he chooses to sue you out of anger alleging libel or slander.  I have learned this one the hard way as my ex-wife threatened a lawsuit over statements made on this blog. To defend myself, I shared her written admission to sexual infidelity to her lawyer, reminded him that a lawsuit would identify her in her home state by name (unlike on here) as an adulteress, and I had the truth, the law, and further evidence on my side. This along with some other things I wrote has settled the matter to date (plus prayer, of course). My point in sharing this story is to be careful about what you say and to stick to the truth that is provable just in case an angry ex-spouse tries to take you to court.
2) Do not editorialize. Do not name call. Just state his actions and your own reasoning for choosing divorce. If people make inferences from there about his character, that is not your responsibility. He did the deeds, and a natural consequence of committing adultery is that people tend to think poorly of someone who acted that way.
3) Resist the temptation to take on the responsibility of telling EVERYONE about his affair. That said, I see speaking the truth to those who ask as proper. And I see it as important to share our stories with trusted others as part of the healing process. We need to be known and have support. Also, do not withhold sharing the truth and your story out of fear. To do so is to live under the control of an ungodly spirit–or demon–as Scripture tells us (see II Timothy 1:7).
Now some religious people may object to my exhortation to you to tell the truth about his affair. They may misconstrue such truth-telling as punishment or unforgiving behavior. This is not so. It is not your job to protect the reputation he destroyed by his own hands in choosing to have a long-term affair. If people want to know, then they ought to be prepared to hear the truth. By refusing to share the truth to those who ask, you are agreeing to a lie. It is really that simple. Telling the truth is not punishing him or an act of unforgiveness. It is letting people in on reality–i.e. he continued to choose to cheat and that is why you are no longer married to him. How things ended is not your shame to bear.
As to the assertion that this is nobody’s business, I will point out such an assertion apparently has not stopped him from slandering your good character with others. I see this as an intimidation technique to keep you silent, isolated, and bearing the shame that rightfully he ought to own.
Furthermore, his assertion about your marriage ending being nobody’s business is downright ridiculous if you think about it. Society has a vested interest in marriages. After all, we have to have witnesses in order to get married. Adultery and divorce affect more than just the couple. When pastors divorce, the community is especially hurt feeling the pain and confusion of their leaders’ relationship ending. So, it is a kindness to let them know what really happened for their own grief processes. I think this is doubly so for those who care enough to ask us. They need to know the relationship they clearly supported did not “just end” but ended for good and Biblical reasons. This truth sharing also reinforces Biblical teachings on adultery and divorce for the Christian community.
Thank you, Healing Heart, for writing into me. I hope this gives you some direction in navigating these tricky waters. Remember this is not your shame to bear and telling the truth–especially to our supporters–is both wise and godly.

11 thoughts on “Dear Divorce Minister, What is the morally and spiritually right way to handle this?”

  1. So sharing this post on Facebook and tagging my STBX husband on it wouldn’t be an appropriate way to share my story? LOL! I confess that I fantasize about doing that all the time.

  2. Thank you so much for your response. This is so incredibly helpful for me, and I will prayerfully allow this to guide me as I move forward. You have a very important ministry, and reading your blog has helped me so much. Thank you!

  3. My stbx started out with a mixture of flaunting his new woman round his family and friends and that threatening me if I told anyone, so for those first few weeks I could have been in such a lonely place but for the fact that I told my sister, a friend and our minister, who had been sensitive enough to see how upset I was and asked me outright if there was anything I needed to talk about.
    Despite him having told me he wanted a divorce it was to be on his terms is by mutual consent after 2 years of separation. When I started divorce proceedings on the grounds of adultery he went ballistic and refused to admit it, fortunately his admit it officially. Shortly after I wanted to send Christmas cards early so I didn’t get a load sent to both of us. He didn’t want me to say what had happened, just to say that we had decided to go our separate ways. I was not prepared to lie and we compromised on me saying that he had decided to go his separate way. But I then said what happened, nothing nasty, just the truth. Our friends have a right to know the truth. Just as our church had a right to know that one Sunday school leader had left his wife to live with another Sunday school leader
    It is abuse I think to insist on secrecy and lies. He had not wanted me to tell anyone who did not need to know even that he was gone let alone why at the beginning. . Once people knew the truth they were so kind and supportive. But I had had those weeks of having to put on a brave face to most people and not being able to tell them what a dark place I was in and that was an awful time and made things so much worse for me.
    It is a pretty simple test of is something right to ask yourself would I want someone to know the truth. If you do not want someone to know the truth, nice secrets excepted, a surprise present perhaps, then that is a pretty good pointer that it is wrong.
    When he took his new woman for the tour of family and friends I can only suppose that he told them the lie that we had decided to part amicably. I am not sure anyone bought it tbh but I don’t think anyone challenged him on it. You can’t have it both ways, openly living with another woman yet keeping it secret but that is why my husband tried to do. With not wanting me to divorce until after 2 years, (and he spent an evening on the phone to me trying to persuade me not to), he was also denying me the chance should an opportunity present itself, to meet someone else.I don’t know if I will try and find someone eventually but im not prepared to conside4 it while i am still married.He even quizzed our daughter was the reason why I was rushing into divorce quicker than he wanted to, because I had found someone else? And how this would be wrong. Honestly he did I heard what he was saying to our daughter on the phone, he tried to get her to stop me from divorcing him
    Healing Heart, DM is right. If he didn’t want people to know he shouldn’t have done it. Simple truth is not punishing him. Nor is it unforgiving or betrayal. But telling. the trufh to those who ask or who need to know could lift a burden off you and help in your healing

    1. Wow. Yes. My ex husband did all these things. Threatened me to not tell anyone what he did, to not “tarnish his name”. Ha. He is now engaged again (6 months after the divorce was final) and parading his new woman to family as well. As if nothing is wrong. It is so weird that no one calls him out. I have always felt like if someone asks what happened, I will tell. Period. If he wants to get mad for me telling the truth, that’s his problem. I am no longer responsible for his feelings. Thank you for verifying my point of view with scripture.

      1. It’s good to know that I’m not alone with the crazy stuff. They expect that it will be like changing a channel on the TV, suddenly everything and everyone will be different, or putting me back in the toy box, and then in the attic, like something he’s finished with. When I look back I was crazy to accept it as much as I did. But I could not cope with the additional abuse that was sure to follow if I did do what he wanted. There is only so much you can do at a time. I did lie about who I had told just to protect myself, but it wasn’t many
        He went absolutely ballistic when he discovered I’d been for a meal with a friend who happens to be a lawyer, just a couple of weeks after he went, I was quizzed as to why, and had I been talking about divorce etc. Well, no, I had just been and had a lovely meal and met some nice people, and had my mind taken off how miserable I was feeling but he didn’t believe me I don’t think. And why the heck shouldn’t I be talking about divorce in the circumstances. She did invite me round later to run through the options with me, and I was very grateful to her for doing that, as I did start sorting things out

  4. He does know that atheists and humanists don’t accept cheating either, right? What a turd.

    1. Oh sure he does. He claims his cheating stemmed from his over all unhappiness, which he partly blames on being a Christian… which he now says he has realized was never really true for him. He claims he is now finally at peace now that he has rejected Christianity. Well, I will tell you,,, he sure does not seem to be at peace in any way in his life. It’s actually quite sad to see what a mess he is.

      1. I think every cheater says they aren’t happy. I don’t think they know how to be truly happy. It doesn’t come from constantly chasing other people and material things. Joy comes from contentment and living a godly life. They are sad, tragic people. I’m so sorry for all of us who’ve had to deal with this type of person.

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